FIU burned a year of now-sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens’ eligibility with limited snaps in seven games and zero receptions last season. For want of a win, quarterback Bud Martin almost saw a year lost in five minutes. This year, freshman quarterback Christian Alexander might find himself in the same position.
That’s because FIU coach Ron Turner uses black and white criteria for whether or not a player gets redshirted.
“About as simple as it can be,” Turner said. “If he can help us win this year, he’s playing. I don’t care if it’s the last two games or all 12 games. If he can help us win, he’s playing.”
That includes Alexander, a quarterback whose advanced maturity and leadership Turner has already lauded often. Had sophomore starter Alex McGough been unable to play this week after getting knocked out of Saturday’s loss to Indiana, Alexander would’ve been the backup to graduate transfer senior Trey Anderson. He would’ve been one hit or a few bad drives from playing, thus burning his chance to redshirt.
Turner would love to get out of this season with Alexander and fellow freshman quarterback Maurice Alexander holding four seasons of playing time while McGough still has two.
“But if they’re ready to play and they can help us, they’ll play. Ideally, yes [they’ll redshirt],” Turner said. “I’ve never talked to them about that, and I won’t talk to them about that because I want their mindset to prepare to start every single week.”
Because when it comes to burning a redshirt, there’s no point at which Turner won’t throw a player into the fire.
The 2014 season finale at North Texas couldn’t change FIU’s final status. A late loss to Old Dominion two weeks before had killed the Panthers’ bowl eligibility chances and clinched a losing record, albeit one with four times as many wins as 2013.
With FIU down 17-14 and five minutes left in the game, McGough got hurt. As he came off, tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, a high school quarterback, played quarterback while Martin warmed up to take over. McGough returned, preventing Martin from losing a year of playing time for five minutes.
“That tells you something about Bud,” Turner said. “He’s a team guy, he’s a great guy.”
In the NFL, general managers think longer-term (roster management), and coaches think short-term (record management). College-affiliated football coaches act as their own general managers. Record management trumps all from September-December. Roster management can wait for recruiting, spring football or August training camp.
Players can be moved around later. Job-saving wins sit on the table now.
Dieugot Joseph was recruited and redshirted in 2012 as a defensive end when the Panthers overflowed with defensive ends, including Tourek Williams, now an NFL outside linebacker. He got moved to offensive tackle in spring 2013 and has started FIU’s last 13 games at left tackle. With FIU fat with defensive backs, Vontarius West got moved from safety to outside linebacker, where he started and had a team-high 14 tackles against Indiana.
Though it gives players one more year of physical maturity, one more year of college life and one more year of paid schooling, there’s a predictable distaste for the all-practice, no-play season of redshirting. Turner said he’s never had one player who wouldn’t have rather played.
“If they would’ve asked me to redshirt, I’m not going to lie, I probably would’ve felt bad about myself,” said junior linebacker Treyvon Williams, who backed up senior Markeith Russell as a freshman. “I would’ve done a self-evaluation — what was wrong with me that I wasn’t ready to play? And probably fixed it. I probably wouldn’t have been the happiest person on earth, but you have no choice but to accept it and run with it.”
CLIMBING THE CHARTS
You have to go back to at least 2011, the end of FIU’s T.Y. Hilton days, to find a time when the Panthers appeared anywhere in the national offensive rankings. Going into the weekend, sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens ranks sixth nationally in receptions per game (9.5), ninth in gross receiving yards (244) and 10th in receiving yards per game (122.0). McGough’s 24.5 completions per game ranks 15th and his 66.2 completion percentage is 34th. Those two sets of numbers are a prime reason FIU’s third-down conversion percentage, among the worst in the nation in each of the past two seasons, now sits at 45.5 percent, a respectable 37th. Also, FIU’s 2.0 tackles for loss allowed per game is tied with three schools for the national lead.
▪ Don’t expect either of FIU’s towering, fast but injured wide receivers, sophomore Shawn Abrams or senior Juwan Caesar, to be in the lineup Saturday.
Both remained in the orange injury jerseys for practice this week, and Abrams long was expected to be out until possibly the fifth game of the season. Caesar was considered a possiblity for the home opener when he had surgery in late August, but he’s just off crutches this week.